Healthy teeth and gums allow you to eat well and eat well. There are several issues that can affect the health of your mouth, but good care should keep your teeth and gums strong as you get older.
The teeth are covered with a hard outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria builds up on your teeth called dental plaque. Bacteria in plaque produce acids that can cause cavities and damage enamel. Brushing your teeth and flossing can prevent cavities, but once a cavity forms, to prevent further damage, a dentist should repair it with a filling.
Use fluoride toothpaste to protect your teeth from cavities. If you have a higher risk of tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth due to a condition or medications you are taking), you may need more fluoride. Your dentist or dental hygienist may give you fluoride treatment during an office visit or may tell you to use fluoride gel or mouthwash at home.
Gum disease begins when plaque builds up along and below the gum line. Dental plaque causes an infection that hurts the gum tissue and the bones that hold your teeth in place. A mild form of gum disease can make your gums red, tender, and more likely to bleed. This problem, called gingivitis, can often be resolved by brushing and flossing every day.
A more serious form of gum disease, called periodontitis, needs to be treated by a dentist. If left untreated, this infection can lead to bleeding gums and sore, painful chewing problems, and even tooth loss.
To prevent gum disease:
- Twice a day, brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss regularly.
- Visit your dentist regularly for a cleaning and an exam. Let the dentist know about your health problems and the medications you are taking.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk for gum disease.
How to clean your teeth and gums
There is a good way to brush and floss your teeth. Every day: series of
- Gently brush your teeth on all sides with a fluoride toothpaste and soft bristle brush. Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months.
- Use small circular motions and short back and forth movements.
- Brush carefully and gently along your gum line.
- To keep your mouth clean, lightly brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper.
- Clean between your teeth with dental floss, pre-rolled dental floss, a water flosser, or a similar product. This removes plaque and food scraps that a toothbrush cannot reach.
- Rinse after flossing.
It is difficult for people with arthritis or other conditions that limit hand movement to hold and use a toothbrush. Here are some helpful tips:
- Use an electric or battery-powered toothbrush.
- Buy a toothbrush with a wider handle.
- To your hand, secure the toothbrush handle with a wide elastic band.
See your dentist if brushing or flossing causes your gums to bleed or your mouth to hurt. If you have trouble flossing, a floss stand can help.
Sometimes false teeth (dentures) are needed to replace severely damaged teeth or teeth lost due to gum disease. One or more missing teeth can be filled by partial dentures. Dentures may seem strange at first. At first, your dentist may want to see you often to make sure the prosthesis is properly fitted. Over time, your gums will change shape and your prosthesis may need to be adjusted or replaced. Let your dentist handle these adjustments for sure.
Be careful when wearing dentures as it may be more difficult for you to smell hot foods and drinks or to notice bones in your food. When you learn to eat with dentures, it may be easier if you:
- Start with soft, non-sticky foods.
- Cut your food into small pieces.
- Chew slowly using both sides of your mouth.
Keep your dentures clean and free of foods that can cause stains or bad breath. Avoid small, crunchy foods that can get stuck under dentures and injure your gums. Brush dentures daily with denture care product and soak them in water or denture cleaning liquid overnight. While sleeping, make sure to leave them out of your mouth to prevent swelling of the gums.
Dry mouth occurs when you don’t have enough saliva or sputum to keep your mouth moist. It can be difficult to eat, swallow, taste, and even speak. Dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay, fungal infections of the mouth, and cavities. Many common medications can cause this problem. For example, medications for high blood pressure, depression, and bladder control problems often cause a dry mouth.
There are things that can help you. Try sipping water or sugar-free drinks. Do not smoke and avoid alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks and acidic fruit juices. Avoid spicy or salty foods. Hard candy without sugar or sugarless gum that is a little tart can help. Your dentist or doctor might suggest that you use artificial saliva to keep your mouth moist.
Any part of the mouth or throat can have oral cancer. This is more likely to happen in people over 40. A dental exam is a good time for your dentist to look for signs of oral cancer. Usually, pain is not an early symptom of the disease. Treatment works best before the disease spreads. Even if you have lost all of your natural teeth see your dentist for regular checkups for oral cancer.
There are several ways you can lower your risk of oral cancer:
- Do not use any tobacco products, such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff, pipes, or cigars.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Use lip balm with sunscreen.
- Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are relatively new and scientists are still learning more about their long-term health effects.